There is a palpable fear in the air. People are reeling. They are paralyzed with anxiety. You hear the call to move forward, to move on. But how? I’m sharing an intimate story to help you.
In the weeks and months following the concussion I sustained last year, I was trying my best to follow the doctor’s orders to rest, but as a single woman with my own business and no disability insurance, I needed to generate income.
The stream of thoughts in the back of my mind was constant: how will I serve my clients? how will I get new clients? how will I pay my bills? Each time those thoughts bubbled to the surface, I felt a gripping tightness in my chest, a knotting my stomach, a closing in my throat. I felt paralyzed. I was unable to move. Unable to breathe. Sometimes, it took all I had in me just to sit down. Each anxiety attack made it impossible for me to do the little bit of work I was able to do at the time.
The feeling of anxiety was not new to me. What was new was how I addressed it. I did not numb it with drugs or alcohol. I did not escape into the illusion of “busy” or “hustle.” Instead, I invited it in.
Each time I felt the gripping, I stopped whatever I was doing, and I focused on my breath. I closed my eyes. Often, I would put my hand on my heart. And I took slow, deep breaths. As I followed my pattern of inhales and exhales, I acknowledged what was there: fear.
I allowed it to be there, and investigated it. I did not make it wrong. At the same time, I reminded myself that whatever thoughts were triggering this physical feeling were not, in fact, happening right here and right now. I reminded myself to have faith.
Usually, the gripping resolved itself within a matter of moments. Other times, I would sit with it much longer.
Sometimes, I would go through this process dozens of times a day.
I haven’t shared this story before, but I felt called to share it now because it is so relevant to what so many are experiencing today.
What I Learned
As I continued my practice of this process, I learned to see how my thoughts linked to the physical sensations and emotions I felt. I learned how to listen to and communicate with myself. I learned how to ask the questions that allowed me to separate fact from fiction when I heard the stories in my head.
I observed that in the vast majority of cases my body was seizing in fear based on a story I had in my head that was mere speculation. It was what Tara Brach describes as “real, but not true.”
The feeling was real, but the story that was producing that feeling wasn’t true. It might turn out to be true in the future, but it wasn’t true in this moment, in this place.
This is how I learned how to find presence: that elusive space that is right here, right now.
The fight-flight-freeze impulse is in our wiring. It’s a natural response when we feel threatened. This serves us well in times of real danger. It does not serve us well in times when our thoughts convince us that we are in danger – especially when said thoughts are below the surface of our conscious awareness.
To stop that response and acknowledge what’s there, and to remind yourself that these are only thoughts, that you’re not in actual danger, in this moment … that’s not always so easy to do.
Finding presence requires us to create a space. Not necessarily a physical space, but an energetic space. We can’t find presence while we are running from meeting to meeting and taking selfies and surfing the web. It exists in the pause.
The Power of Rituals
I was fortunate in that I already had built a solid bedrock of rituals that gave me a space in which I could engage in this process.
My rituals create a clearing in which I am able to see what’s percolating under the surface, often before it boils over. This commitment to daily practice, no matter what, is what got me out of bed in those dark mornings after the concussion, and every day since. It has supported me in my times of deepest despair and disappointment.
This bedrock foundation of ritual practice is what helped me get out of bed this morning, as the day dawned with deep uncertainty and sadness.
I felt the familiar gripping in my chest almost as soon as I was out of bed. I had turned off my television and my Twitter feed last night before I knew the results of the election. I did not check the news. I did not check email. I relied on a solid foundation of ritual practice to get myself out the door and to the pool. I went for a long swim. By the time I emerged from the pool I had a new perspective. I had reached a sense of peace.
Until about mid-day, I did not know the result, officially. And yet, I knew. I knew because I could feel it. I knew because the pool was uncharacteristically quiet. I knew because, deep down, I’ve seen this coming for months, even when I didn’t want to admit it to myself. (More on that later).
People are walking around in a catatonic state, if they are walking around at all. Many people are probably hiding under the covers. I get it. I’m not immune to the fear.
I try to steer clear of politics, but to remove all doubt: this is not the result I wanted.
A previous version of me would have been imprisoned by the walls of anxiety, unable to move or go through my day. Instead, I felt it, released it and moved through it.
This is what’s possible with the power of rituals.
This is what’s possible when you learn to step out of the trance of our stories and into the light of presence.
We will get through this, together. One breath at a time.
How are you navigating life today? In my work with clients, I have helped them implement my processes to navigate through anxiety with greater ease and grace. Want to learn more? Reach out. I’m here to help.